When Grant Robertson began describing a possible stimulus package to cushion the economy from the impacts of Covid-19 in February, he was insistent that it would be highly targeted.

Focusing on the plight of tourism and hospitality sectors, certain companies in some regions are facing the prospect of a major downturn, while others in the same sector may be largely unaffected. However, those who encountered Robertson in meetings detected a reluctance to spend big.

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PM Jacinda Ardern announced unprecedented quarantine measures at a press conference on March 14. Video / Sylvie Whinray

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was billing the "Business Continuity Package" as the largest announcement the Government had made, suggesting it could be bigger than January's infrastructure package.

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By Monday's post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern's language appeared to have moved beyond targeting, to an economic package that was "relentlessly about jobs".

Robertson will release the package this afternoon, but the speculation is that wage subsidies may be offered more broadly than initially signalled, perhaps even to all businesses that can prove they have suffered an impact from the virus.

The package is expected to be broadly similar to the wage subsidies offered to affected businesses after the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes. In the case of the latter, companies were paid $300 for each part-time worker and $500 for full-time workers each week.

Those figures were based on the minimum wage, so if the package was designed to be comparable the amounts per worker may have also increased.

It is likely that the package announced will put a time limit on the subsidy, of perhaps two months, a date which could be extended if the disruption caused by the virus to trade and travel is prolonged.

In Australia, wage subsidies were limited to $25,000 for any small- or medium-sized business.

Last week, Ardern and Robertson did not rule out the relief also being available to large businesses.


New Zealand is expected to have a cap on how much a business could get in wage subsidies, but it appears it will be larger than across the Tasman.

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Another key question remains how the Government will help cover the cost of leave when workers are asked to self-isolate, with speculation that it will. The case for this as a community health move appears solid.

While some workers have large amounts of accrued sick leave, many do not, and there is a risk that workers may tend to work on if they believe they would use up their holiday pay or be asked to take unpaid leave.

Likewise, companies already under strain could be hit by having to pay out for workers on bouts of leave.

Because all of us benefit if those affected are able to afford self-isolation, and we could all be harmed if people feel forced to work on, there is a strong case for the Government to step up and contribute to huge amounts of unexpected absence from work in the coming weeks and months.